On Monday U.S. Senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker, together with Congressman Bill Pascrell, outlined federal legislation designed to prevent another Flint-like water crisis.
“Flint has taught us all that ignoring our aging water infrastructure has dire consequences,” Menendez (D-N.J.) said. “We’ve under-invested in our infrastructure, certainly we’ve underinvested in water systems, and now we’re paying the price.”
The proposal, called the Sustainable Water Infrastructure Act (SWIA), would stimulate billions in private sector investment in large-scale repairs and upgrades to water and wastewater systems. Significantly, the legislation would revise the federal tax code to exempt private activity bonds (PABs) used for water and wastewater projects from the volume cap enforced by the IRS. The Clean Water Council has supported this legislation each time it has been introduced in the past. Removing water projects from beneath the volume cap for PABs would open the door for greater financing by the private sector.
Senator Menendez and Representative Pascrell have introduced the SWIA in each of the past four Congresses, but agreed to reintroduce it now following the public health crisis confronting Flint, Michigan (the subject of our post two weeks ago). Senator Menendez also succeeded in getting the PAB amendment through the Senate as part of a 2012 Transportation bill, but that change never made it into law.
The lawmakers announced the bill on the grounds of Suez North America, a Hackensack, New Jersey water company that supports private investment in water infrastructure projects. Suez executive vice president Robert Iacullo commented that many water system pipes in New Jersey are several decades old, with some surpassing 70 years.” A water main breaks every two minutes in the United States,” he said. “We know that cities across New Jersey and across our nation need high levels of investment. And that’s why we support the swift passage of this important legislation.”
Booker (D-N.J.) said that financing critical water infrastructure upgrades through private investment will “create jobs, spur economic growth and most importantly protect the health and safety of our communities.” Pascrell (D-NJ) noted that about a quarter of the treated water in the United States is lost as it travels to homes and businesses due to burst pipes.”Fixing these aging systems is a pressing need and upgrades can help alleviate threats to public health,” he said.
There are cities across the country like Flint that simply cannot afford the cost of the major repairs needed to avert water contamination and catastrophe. The federal government must intervene or more communities will suffer from neglect. The CWC will lobby vigorously for swift passage of the SWIA and will keep you advised on our progress.